February 28, 2011



Last night I committed a crime: I stole 12 of Kurt Vonnegut‘s novels.

After reading David Carnoy‘s recent article about the vast ease and availability of pirated eBooks I wanted to see how easy it really was. It was incredibly easy. The quality was very good. I had not used The Pirate Bay before and I didn’t have the necessary software to download the bit torrent or view the eBooks on my computer. To figure out the process, download the software, and steal the books took about five minutes. Downloading the novels themselves took about one second.

As Carnoy points out, eBooks are tiny files in comparison to audio of video. Downloading thousands of popular Kindle titles takes a matter of minutes. One of the popular downloads is a library of 2,500 Kindle titles that were rated five stars. I did not download this file so I don’t know how long it takes. However long it is, is the amount of time in which a publisher of popular mainstream books loses a customer, perhaps forever. I feel nervous even talking about the process, since the rate of familiarization and frequency of these downloads corresponds directly to a potentially catastrophic moment in the publishing industry.

Carnoy quotes Scott Turow, the president of the Author’s Guild:

[Piracy] has killed large parts of the music industry….Musicians make up for the copies of their songs that get pirated by performing live. I don’t think there will be as many people showing up to hear me read as to hear Beyonce sing. We need to make sure piracy is dealt with effectively.

The commenters in Carnoy’s article (on, of course, the CNET tech website) seem mostly unsympathetic to the publisher’s or author’s plight. Several see the act of downloading thousands of free books to an eReader as no different than going to the library. Publishing optimists, like Neil Gaiman, believe that pirated books actually increase sales. Few seem to agree with Mr. Vonnegut who writes in Deadeye Dick that:

There are several recipes in this book….I have tinkered with the originals, however—so no one should use this novel for a cookbook.

Any serious cook should have the reliable originals in his or her library anyway.